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Western Minnesota schools head back to class Tuesday with some opening new buildings, others facing levies

MOORHEAD - For Tessa Rhone, the first day of school on Tuesday can't get here soon enough. The Robert Asp Elementary second-grader, was firmly plopped in a bean bag chair in the school's library at Thursday's back-to-school night when she declare...

MOORHEAD - For Tessa Rhone, the first day of school on Tuesday can't get here soon enough.

The Robert Asp Elementary second-grader, was firmly plopped in a bean bag chair in the school's library at Thursday's back-to-school night when she declared that she's ready for the first day of reading, writing and socializing.

"The best part is I get to watch movies and do lots of fun stuff," she said. "And I get to go to the library, and SEE ALL OF MY FRIENDS!"

Throughout northwestern Minnesota, school officials have been preparing to welcome the Tessas and thousands of other students back to classes.

Many school districts are unveiling new programs, technologies or freshly refurbished buildings to put through their paces.


Others expect challenges - mainly financial - in the coming year, with some districts planning levy referendums.

Moorhead Superintendent Lynne Kovash said she hopes to see a payoff starting this year from investments made with revenues from an $850 per pupil levy approved last fall.

"It's very important. It helps us to maintain a source of predictable revenue," she said.

So far, Kovash said:

  • $3.7 million has been used to bolster the district's budget, prevent program cuts and retain teachers.
  • $1 million has added the full-time equivalent of 18 teachers to keep class sizes down and bolster programs.
  • $250,000 was used to replace outdated technology infrastructure.
  • $150,000 was spent to add Chinese as a language at the high school. "It's a neat project. We're excited about it," Kovash said.

  • Another $150,000 was used to nearly halve fees for the Kinder Plus full-day kindergarten program, encouraging more families to sign up.

Kovash said a healthy sign for the district is that its kindergarten classes are getting bigger and this year will be bigger than the graduating class.
Lake Park-Audubon

Head a half hour east on Highway 10 and you'll come to the Lake Park-Audubon School District.

This year, it's the elementary in Audubon that gets to shine when students return on Tuesday. Or maybe that's Principal Sam Skaaland's smile as he shows off the revitalized school.

Seven classrooms were added to the school, and it was completely refurbished, including a new gym floor, boiler, and new interactive projector technology in every classroom as part of a $3.5 million initiative.


"You should see the kids' faces," fourth-grade teacher JoLeen Eklund said. "I just can't believe it. I just keep pinching myself."

A 1922 section of the building was torn down and in its place is a new entrance and parking lot, providing better security. The whole building has a new sprinkler system. There's also a new computer lab, Skaaland said.

Occupational therapist Mary Buettner was marveling at her new room.

"This is really like Christmastime," said Buettner, who works for Lake Agassiz Special Education Cooperative.. "We're thinking we're pretty uptown now."

Next fall, the new $17.5 million Lake Park-Audubon High School is slated to open with grades 7-12 in Lake Park, Superintendent Dale Hogie said.


The Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton School District will soon find out if two heads are better than one.

The district has replaced former Superintendent Randy Bruer, who moved on to another superintendent post, with acting co-superintendents: junior high Principal Colleen Houglum and high school Principal Terry Karger.


According to the district's website, Houglum will oversee day-to-day operations, and Karger will handle transportation and community services and be the state Department of Education contact.


The district has a new high school principal, Ehren Zimmerman.

Zimmerman had worked in Rothsay schools for

the last 12 years, Superintendent Mitch Anderson said.

Anderson said the district will also seek a per-pupil levy of $695 in a Nov. 8 vote.

"We've been bailed out the last year or two with stimulus money and one-time dollars. But those monies are gone," Anderson said.



This is the year to bulk up on technology, said Superintendent Rick Bleichner.

Last year, the district added smart boards for grades K-8. This year, the push is to get them through grade 12, he said.

Officials will also bring iPads into some classrooms, as well as instant-response polling devices.

Grants are being sought from Cargill, and a fundraiser has been set up with Vision Ford; the firm will donate to the district if people take a test drive, Bleichner said.


Last year was a big year in the district with the merging of their school buildings, Superintendent Michael Kolness said.

This year, the district is introducing smart boards in the elementary school, along with new playground equipment, he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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